I was scrolling down my university’s Confessions page on Facebook (I’m sure yours has one too) and I noticed a worrying trend of posts written by new students about feeling lonely. And it got me thinking. Yes, we’ve all been there. But how did we get through it?
First, if you are feeling lonely at university, know that you’re technically not ‘alone’ in this situation. I know this is a cliché thing to write, but even in Canada, around 70% of students struggle with loneliness. Be aware that whatever you are going through right now is totally normal.
Even for a small campus as mine (because nothing beats Monash University in Australia!), the university feels huge. What I mean by that is the whole place is so diverse (different schools—arts or medicine?—and different cultures—local or international?). Everyone around you has a life and a schedule of their own. Everyone has different responsibilities and priorities.
The web of students at university is so complex that there is no sense of community—at least, not as much as how it was in high school. Where are the cliques? Where is this feeling of belonging to a close-knit group of friends?
Although I was able to keep my very close friends, I still hung out with different people every year. That’s university life for you.
But I don’t want you to be pessimistic. I want you to be realistic. I want you to be the adult you are bound to be and know that the relationships and friendships you make will be different from what you are used to.
That doesn’t mean you can’t have a blast.
I’ve shown you how to make friends before, and now I’d like to give you some advice on what you could do to feel better when you’re feeling lonely at university.
Get. Out. There.
In the comments section of that same Confessions post that I was talking about, many were encouraging the student to join clubs and societies on campus.
It’s the obvious answer, but YES, they are right. If you feel lonely, get out there. Join a community—there are lots of them on campus. If none of them strikes your fancy, try going for a volunteering program. They may have this option on campus (at Monash they do) but if your university doesn’t, you can still look out for NGOs that speak to you. You’ll be volunteering for a cause you believe in.
The best way to beat that loneliness is to find people whom you can connect you; people who ‘get’ you. And that was how I found those people.
In all honesty, when I’m lonely I simply look for the Performing Arts gang and hang out with them. All it takes is one text message and I’m out of my room. And I never regret it.
If you’re not into clubs or volunteering, speak to people in your class. You never know. I spoke to a girl at random on my first day once, and we’ve become great friends since. It just takes one conversation to start a relationship.
I want you to go on Facebook, Instagram and your other favourite social media sites. I want you to follow your university’s official pages, your student association’s profiles, your School of Arts/Science/Engineering/etc online groups.
That’s how you’ll get notified of events happening around campus, especially mingling nights… and it often involves free food! Or sometimes, a free movie screening!
If you’re feeling lonely, hang around campus, look at the posters and banners nearby. There is always something happening. If you’re looking for people who’ll make you forget about your loneliness, that’s how you’ll find them.
Embrace Your Loneliness.
Yes, I feel lonely. So what? Sometimes, it feels good to be alone. People often think about loneliness like an illness. Something to be rid of. Something unwanted. But feeling lonely at university is inevitable. You won’t be able to have company 24/7. People won’t always be free to have lunch with you.
And it’s alright.
After a hectic week, I sometimes love to sit by myself in the cafeteria, sipping some cold coffee or eating lunch. I take in the outdoor scenery, feel the afternoon sun on my skin and the fake grass beneath my feet. And I feel good.
Yes, I also go out to events on my own. I watch movies alone. I go shopping alone. And who cares? If no one is free or everyone is busy and I don’t want to bother them, I’d do what I want to do on my own.
It feels awkward and lonely at first, but when you start focusing on what you are doing/seeing/eating, being alone won’t matter as much anymore. What goes through my mind instead is: I’m independent and I can do whatever I want! I don’t care about what people think anymore!
Yes, loneliness can be empowering sometimes.
If all else fails, if the feeling of loneliness gnaws at your soul, then I’d encourage you to try out seeking professional help. Loneliness at university can be related to depression or other mental health issues. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. The environment at university is new and vast to you, so it’s normal.
If being lonely leads you to be distressed, I’m sure any of the counsellors on campus will be ready to help you overcome it. Their service is free of charge, and I’ve known counsellors to be kind and helpful.
It’s completely confidential if that’s an issue. Just give it a try.
IMPORTANT: If the counsellor you are seeking help from is rubbing you the wrong way, ask to be transferred to another one. It is not about you or them; a therapeutic relationship is one to be built but, like any other relationship, it may not always work. Don’t generalise a bad experience; you just have to find a counsellor that’s right for you, whose method of therapy suits your preferences.
No matter what happens, don’t give up just yet.
How do YOU deal with feeling lonely at university? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
D. K. Waye.
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